From Aria To Dulcimer
A beautiful 6-string acoustic "Aria" guitar was my first guitar, purchased at "Steve's Music" in Montreal by my dad ( a professional Montreal show-drummer) for one of my birthdays. If they even make that particular model today, the closest is the Aria, Prodigy Series, AFN-15. It was a special experience, as a teen, to go with my dad to his favourite music store, and the great care he took in making sure they included a strap, pitch-pipes, and books of instruction. I learned many Cat Stevens songs on it, as well as my own original tunes. In those days, I also played Supertramp, Jim Croce, Meat Loaf, and many more. One day I went to the closet to play it, and to my horror, the entire bridge had lifted up, cracking (permanently) the fine wood finish and top of this guitar, which was ultimately ruined; I was heart-broken! I moved to Winnipeg from Toronto in 1981, bringing my nylon-string classical guitar with me; I forget who made it...my dad bought it for me from "Pascal", a Montreal hardware store when I was in my late teens! I was a big Cat Stevens fan, and his style had been a major influence in my burgeoning music career both onstage as well as in my song-writing style. I was obsessed with Cat's "Ovation" acoustic guitars, which I had seen him play in one of his Montreal concert tours. One day I walked into a music shop in a Winnipeg Mall, and 'lo and behold, there hung a very affordable (and previously owned) "Ovation"! Feverishly I snapped down my credit card to purchase one of the greatest loves and investments in my professional career: I still own and occasionally play this 6-string wonder, which along with my "Yamaha" keyboards were..."instrumental" in my song-writing career!
I played my Ovation guitar for every one of my live concert and television appearances in Winnipeg and environs where I wasn't dressed up in my period costume from 1981 to 1994, for a total of well over 2,000 shows. I continued this tradition in my Vancouver appearances, (from 1994 until the present) alternating with my blond 6-string acoustic "Epiphone" as well, again, without my period garb. For the shows where I was in full period garb, I played my 12-string Cittern.
The Fisher Cittern
Larry Fisher is a gifted folk musician and instrument builder that I was fortunate to perform with in Winnipeg at hundreds of medieval feasts. Larry exclusively builds custom harps nowadays, (including one that Loreena McKinnet used in a tour) though in my time in Winnipeg he built a wide assortment of instruments. I loved the 7-string flat-back lute-like instrument that he constantly used in his shows; it looked so "folky", "celticy" and "period"...perfect for my medieval-themed TV-show and live appearances! Since I only played 6 and 12-stringed guitars, in 1989 I asked Larry if he would build me a 12-string "Cittern", (which is the proper word for that lute-like wonder) or "English Guitar". Larry agreed. I was over the moon with excitement and anticipation; I knew that this treasured instrument would be with me always and everywhere "period" Magic Mike Likey would appear. The year before (1988) I had built a 6-string flat-backed lute from a kit I purchased from "Lark In The Morning", but I felt that the finished product wasn't professional enough for me, hence I asked Larry about a Cittern. Darrell Scarrett, the voice-talent on my television show, suggested that we bring a mobile camera-crew out to video-record the making of the instrument at Larry's home workshop; both Larry and VPW agreed. It made for an educational and entertaining insert on my television show. By the time the instrument was finished, the public would have been exposed to, and expecting to see, this instrument in my live shows. It still to this days elicits "oooh's" when I lift it out of it's case.
Another guitar besides the Ovation that I love which Cat Stevens (a.k.a. "Yusuf") plays, is a beautiful blond "Gibson" 6-string guitar. I was excited when my wife bought me for my birthday it's nearest relative, a 6-string acoustic "Epiphone", manufactured by Gibson. I love the look and deep sound of this guitar, since previously I was used to the sounds of the cittern and the Ovation, one shallower sounding, the other more "tinny". In non-period concerts, I alternate playing the Epiphone with my Ovation. I've had the Epiphone since 2012.
Around 2009, I saw two videos: one of Joni Mitchell and the other of Cyndi Lauper each playing their songs using a folk-instrument known as a Dulcimer. Although this instrument has 3, sometimes 4 strings, a full-range of notes and chords can be produced from it. This elongated, narrow-violin-shaped beauty has a Celtic/Maritimes sound/feel to it, and is traditionally played while you're seated with it sitting on your lap; for my concerts, I wear it like a guitar using a guitar-strap. This makes fingering the notes more difficult, but well worth it. It is also traditionally strummed using a pick (plectrum), while holding down the notes using a popsicle-stick-like flat piece of wood. I prefer using a pick, and using my fingers for the notes. I purchased this instrument online, along with a separate case for it, since local music-shops (at least in Vancouver) didn't even know what a Dulcimer is, let alone carrying a case for it! Sometimes I really miss Montreal or Toronto; I'm positive the Winnipeg Folk Festival store would also carry one. However, I digress. After receiving the instrument in the mail, I was anxious to learn how to play it, and as I did with guitar and electric keyboard, I taught myself. Note: my father sat me down at age three at his drum-kit, showing me the proper way to hold drumsticks, and even doing "rolls". He then had me play on the snare, tom-tom and cymbals; what a thrill that was! Regardless, in a short time I became relatively proficient with the Dulcimer, but I've only started playing it very recently in my live shows. Every time I remove it from it's case, it's exotic look elicits an "oooh" (as does the Cittern) from the audience. So far, I've only used it to play my still-trending song "The Bat", but I intend to play more songs with it in the future.
I intend to alternate between the Cittern and the Dulcimer for my period-shows, and the Ovation with the Epiphone for non-period concerts. After all, isn't variety "instrumental" for enjoying life?
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Magic Mike Likey
In the '80's and '90's I hosted and produced in Winnipeg, Canada, the longest-running television show about magic, "Magic Mike's Castle". The show ended after nine years. Today, the "Magic Mike Likey Universe" continues on BlogTalk Radio, with "Magic Mike's Castle" and on Speaker Radio!